The big question, in any day-after election analysis: Why did things go the way they did? In Volusia County, up and down the ballot and with very few contradictions, it's clear: Instead of the semi-predicted “blue wave,” Volusia County saw a red rally that extended far past the marquee governor and U.S. Senate contests.
In fact — for the first time that we can find, well, ever — Volusia County will have no Democratic representation in the Florida Legislature. Meanwhile, GOP-identified candidates at county and city levels did well, and Volusia County's support for Ron DeSantis as governor, and Rick Scott for U.S. Senate, was far more thundering than the state's squeakythin margin.
The next few weeks will be spent sorting out what went right for local Republicans. But a few things are already clear:
• Local folks got it done. Speaking to The News-Journal's Mark Harper, Volusia County Republican Executive Committee Chairman Tony Ledbetter called it a “perfect ground game,” and it's not a hollow boast. The local GOP operation was disciplined and enthusiastic, with hundreds of volunteers and a daily flotilla of social-media posts. It's tempting to think that Volusia County Republicans were galvanized by the shocking shoot-up of their storefront office in South Daytona a week before the elections, but the reality is that the operation was already running at high efficiency and seemingly never skipped a beat. That probably played a significant role in the next point.
• Non-party-affiliated voters — widely expected to break for the Democratic side of the ticket — clearly leaned red in Volusia County. The local GOP advantage in registrations is relatively slight; 140,751 Republicans to 137,169 Democrats. But both Scott and DeSantis won here with more than a 10-point spread.Perhaps local nonpartisan voters were focused mainly on issues that didn't take center stage — like the economic gains, particularly with a surge of new jobs in Volusia County. But it's also likely that many were looped in by get-out-the-vote operations. Compare that to Duval County, a former GOP stronghold that is slipping into the blue category — not only has that area's Republican leadership lost their grip on overall registrations, they couldn't convince enough non-affiliated voters to their side to prevent Gillum from claiming victory there.
• While many national Republicans were running away from Trump, most Volusia County Republican candidates were running with him. That was clearly the right call. Tuesday's results firmly established that polling (including approval ratings) is seriously underestimating the controversial president's appeal. And the local Republican slate extracted maximum mileage from the simmering anger that followed the contentious confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.
• The last factor may be the biggest: In many races, the GOP simply fielded better candidates. Start with Congressional District 6. The Republicans looked at Gov.-elect DeSantis' success there, and nominated a nearly identical replacement — Michael Waltz, a young, telegenic ex-military officer with an established national profile. The tougher, savvier play was to recruit DeLand native Elizabeth Fetterhoff who (pending a recount) appears to have defeated incumbent state Rep. Patrick Henry, D-Daytona Beach in District 26. Fetterhoff was able to match Henry's political dynasty with deep roots of her own, but her appeal went far beyond that, mixing experience and acument. Within 48 hours of her qualifying in the spring, Florida Politics editor Peter Schorsch had tagged her as a candidate to watch.
It's telling that Democrats couldn't hold onto a seat held by a competent if not stellar incumbent state representative with a well-known name, in a district drawn to favor Democrats. Volusia County Democrats did claim a few surprising victories, most notably Barbara Girtman's likely displacement of incumbent County Councilman Pat Patterson (also headed for a recount).
But overall, the Wednesday-morning quarterbacking was all about Volusia County's Republicans — and their hard-won, impressive string of triumphs.